Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Loops, drapes and dangles:

Wearing rosaries, part 5

Yet another way of wearing a medieval rosary, as we can see from period paintings, is to have it somehow looped around or pinned to one's shoulder or neckline. This seems to be mostly something women do -- I don't recall seeing any male examples yet, though of course I'm always interested in new evidence, whether it shows that I'm right or not!

The best example I have of this is a depiction of Saint Hedwig of Silesia, an illustration in an illuminated manuscript from the 1350s (specifically, the Hedwigs Codex from 1353: Ludwig Collection, Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen).

Saint Hedwig of Silesia

Saint Hedwig has a somewhat unusual rosary -- it's a straight string of beads rather than the usual looped form. The beads are irregular in size and shape, and don't seem to be in consistent number groups. This is perhaps not surprising, since it's well before the "codification" of the five-decade rosary a century or so later. At the end is a tassel, and it's shown hanging down, possibly fastened to a brooch at the edge of her cloak -- which is a square, decorated version of the common ring brooch so universally used on cloaks and outer garments.

Saint Hedwig seems to have her hands quite full: she's trying to hold both her book (with a finger to keep her place) and her rosary with one hand, while the other is reaching up to grasp something just below her collar. Her fingers are curled around whatever it is, and I actually think it's the upper part of her string of beads, which appears to lead to figures of the Virgin Mary and Infant Jesus at the front of her neckline.

At first I thought Saint Hedwig was symbolically holding Mary and Jesus, in the same way Saint Anne (the Virgin Mary's mother) is often shown with both Mary and the infant Jesus (drawn rather small) on her lap. But my guess is that in this picture, the artist intended to show Saint Hedwig's rosary anchored at the upper end by an elaborately sculpted brooch of these two figures. One reason I think so is the lack of modeling and color on these figures, quite different from Hedwig's own face which is both colored and shaded to show its roundness. (Though this may just be due to their small size.)

The second really clear portrait I have is this one, which I wish was more widely published because it's so lovely. This is the "Muttergottes mit der Wickenblüte" or "Mother of God with the Pea Blossom," by an unknown artist called the Master of Köln (Cologne, Germany), painted in the first half of the 1400s.

Madonna der Wickenblute

In this overview, it's hard to see exactly what the relationship is between the string of gold beads, the little dangling purse and the round pin that Mary is wearing at the center front neckline of her gown. I was lucky enough to find a detail of this portrait (in black and white, unfortunately) which shows the connection much more clearly:

Wickenblute detail

Here you can see that the string of beads is directly attached to the pin -- and if it's anachronistic to see the Infant Jesus playing with a rosary, it's at least as out of place to see the Virgin Mary wearing a brooch that says "IHC" (a version of the more familiar "IHS" abbreviaton for Jesus).

It's harder to see whether, or how, the little purse is attached, since at least in this photo, I can see only one of its strings, and from the way it's hanging it must have two. It may be attached somewhere near where the Infant is holding the strings. This purse is too small to hold the beads, so the speculation usually is that it contains the relics of saints (another anachronism!) or something else of value.

In the 15th century, by the way, these anachronisms don't seem to have bothered anyone. They served much the same purpose as modern illustrations of Jesus playing basketball with children -- to indicate the continuing (though usually invisible) presence of Christ in "modern" life.

The last picture I have to show is a dim and not very detailed one, but I think it may show something interesting. It's this one, which is a detail of the background from a painting we've already seen:


The lady in this picture seems to have some sort of large loop over her shoulder and hanging below her arm. It's far too vague and too small a detail to place much reliance on, but I wonder if she has her arm through a large rosary -- perhaps pinned to her shoulder?

I have a few more details of people wearing rosaries, which I'll post in a few days, but most of them are examples of things we've already talked about. And I'll keep my eyes open for more.

posts in this series:

If you've got it, flaunt it
Rosaries on belts
Tying one on
Rubg ariybd tge cikkar
Loops, drapes and dangles
Just hanging around
What did Margaret mean?


Friday, January 27, 2006

Hey, Jude

It's been brought to my attention that this is the 101st post in this blog, so I'm celebrating, in a minor sort of way. Who would have guessed that I could keep talking this long and never run out of things to say? (Wait, don't answer that.....[grin])

Anyway, I've had a little time recently to go exploring in eBay again, and found some interesting stuff, sparking ideas for future articles. I've mentioned before that I find it useful to keep an eye on eBay -- it's an interesting window into the modern rosary market and its stories and trends.

I thought at first this rosary was a case of mis-identification. Here are the pictures:

Judebeads 3

Judebeads 2

This is listed as a "vintage rosary with St. Jude's image in beads." The seller says, "Each clear bead has an image of St. Jude inside, seen from both back and front, in pink set against a cloud like background. Beads are plastic or similiar composition. The metal at the bottom of the loop has an image of St. Jude on one side and 'St. Jude Pray for Us' on the reverse."

St. Jude is well known as the saint of "impossible causes", whose prayers are requested when a situation seems to offer no hope of a positive outcome. While devotion to him (as with all saints) is not as intense or visible as it was before Vatican II, I still see classified ads saying "Thank you, St. Jude" pretty regularly in the diocesan newspaper. Perhaps I owe St. Jude a small debt for the success of this blog, as well.

These beads are a well-known type from (I think) the early 1960s, except that the more usual version has a small blue figure of the Virgin Mary inside each clear plastic bead. Given the size of these beads (half an inch at most) the inside figure is generally pretty crude and not very detailed. But considering that it's relatively easy to produce a compound plastic bead like this, I'm a little surprised that there don't seem to be many types of them -- ones with roses inside, for instance.

I at first thought that the pink figure in the beads had to be Christ, showing the Sacred Heart on his chest. In part, I was misled by another rosary up for sale this week, which has ordinary round beads for the decades and these same heart-shaped beads as markers -- and it also has a medal of St. Jude in the center. But this one identifies the figure inside the bead as Christ.

A commenter has since convinced me that this really is Saint Jude after all: for which, my thanks. Here's a closeup:

The key is what is displayed on the figure's chest. If this were Christ, it would be a heart shape, representing the Sacred Heart. But instead it is a round plate with a head on it. Apparently a common identifier for Saint Jude is to show him carrying a roundel diplaying the head of Christ. I can only say "Ooops!" [grin].

Both rosaries are marked as being from Italy, so perhaps that is the source of these beads. I'll have to look at the next blue Madonna-in-plastic rosary I see and find out if those seem to be from Italy as well.

I have to confess that I consider plastic beads to be inherently tacky, and that this type of bead is classified in my mind (and my file folders) under the heading of "bizarre." Still, it's a historical phenomenon, and there are quite a few rosaries with beads of this type around, so someone liked them. And God, after all, pays far more attention to sincerity of heart than to bad taste in beads.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ring around the collar:

Wearing rosaries, part 4

Every class I talk to about the history of the rosary has someone in it whose Catholic grandmother told them you should NEVER wear a rosary around your neck. It seems the good nuns who ran Catholic religious education in our grandparents' days were quite certain such a thing could only be (gasp!) sacrilegious.

Perhaps the Material Girl and the modern "Goth" culture have reinforced this idea as well. But in the 15th and 16th centuries it appears to have been quite normal and fashionable to wear rosaries around the neck, at least among certain social groups. We've already seen one 17th-century example of a rosary around the neck here, on a small ivory statue of Saint Rose of Lima.

However I'm told that even back then, the practice was officially frowned upon. I suspect this is because it reinforces people's tendency to treat their beads as secular jewelry. The desire to show off one's success, wealth, and good taste has certainly contributed to the impulse to wear a particularly elegant and expensive rosary. It would not be surprising to find that piety became secondary.

At any rate, two of the best examples I've found of rosaries worn around the neck are in portraits of the nobility. Federigo II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, had his portrait painted by Vecellio Tiziano around 1525-30, wearing what clearly seems to be a rosary around his neck. (This portrait is now in the Prado, Madrid.) I've had difficulty finding a good copy of this picture, as both the beads and his doublet are quite dark in color, making the beads very hard to see. I've lightened the detail below for a better view.


The configuration of five decades plus gauds (marker beads) strongly suggests this is intended to represent a rosary rather than a purely decorative necklace -- especially since it's slightly asymmetrical at the joining of the loop, with one gaud next to and slightly above the other, as happens when there are gauds at both the beginning and end of the five decades. Also, below the joining are three extra beads in a straight line and another gaud, as is common in rosaries of the 16th century and later, and there appears to be something small hanging from the end, though I can't make out what it is -- perhaps a small cross.

A few years later, the "Portrait of a Lady in White" by Moretto da Brescia also shows her wearing a necklace that clearly consists of five groups of 10 small gold beads, plus larger gauds. Again, the configuration of five decades plus gauds strongly suggests this is intended to represent a rosary. This was painted around 1540 and is now in the U.S. National Gallery in Washington.


The detail here shows that the rosary seems to end, not in a cross or pendant as one would expect, but with three small beads arranged in a triangle and a white ribbon bow -- although there's also something else (an intial? a small hollow case?) just above the angle where the beads meet. (See this link for more details of this painting.)

We do have evidence that wearing a rosary around the neck was a practice not confined to the wealthy. When we discussed wearing a rosary attached to the belt, I showed you a closeup of the woman on the floor in the foreground here, praying for healing at the shrine of Saint Agilolph:


Just opposite her, however, is this old man, and he's wearing his rosary around his neck:


Some examples are less clear-cut. This drawing of a very short and fashionable man (perhaps a dwarf?) is from around 1380, and the beads he is wearing around his neck may or may not represent a rosary or paternoster. This is a detail from a miniature of Emperor Charles IV and the seven Imperial Electors, from the Armorial de Gelre, a manuscript on heraldry currently in the Bibliotheque Royale in Brussels.


Clues that this may be a paternoster include the two large beads next to each other -- just as in Federigo de Gonzaga's portrait -- and the two little beads hanging from the bottom, which is a finishing touch I've seen in a 16th-century woodcut that is clearly a rosary.

Now I am not a jewelry expert, so I could be wrong about this (as well as lots of other things) but it also strikes me that very few of the ordinary decorative necklaces I've seen show two such different sizes of beads in the same string, again suggesting the artist may have drawn them this way (perhaps with the size difference exaggerated) to indicate they are prayer beads. The alternation of groups of small beads with a single large one does suggest a paternoster or rosary of some sort, although the beads are not clearly drawn and there seem to be only about three small ones per group.

Finally, we have the jolly friar below, whose beads are flying out behind him as he hastens somewhere on horseback. I've seen this woodcut several times in different places, but I don't know its original source.


(We won't tell him that the Rule of Saint Francis forbids the friars to ride horses, will we? It would be a shame to spoil his fun.)

posts in this series:

If you've got it, flaunt it
Rosaries on belts
Tying one on
Rubg ariybd tge cikkar
Loops, drapes and dangles
Just hanging around
What did Margaret mean?


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Tying one on:

Wearing rosaries, part 3

Probably the most common place to see a rosary in a medieval image is attached to someone's belt. Often we can't see enough detail to determine exactly how it's attached. Women's rosaries in particular seem very often to be "magically" attached to the center front clasp of their girdles, as shown on this brass from the tomb of Lettys Terry (d. 1524, Norwich, St. John Maddermarket).

Overbelt-2 Womanbrass

One possibility is that a rosary can be tied onto a belt with a separate piece of ribbon or string, as in the diagram below. This has the advantage that it's not difficult to remove the rosary for prayer or to re-attach it afterwards. It's also a more secure attachment than if the rosary is merely tucked into the belt (as mentioned in part 2 of this series).


Here's a painting that may show a rosary attached in this fashion. This is a detail from a scene of the Virgin and Child with a crowd of women saints, described in this post. Here we have Saint Agnes wearing a very long, extravagant rosary that is attached to her girdle and reaches to the hem of her gown. We can tell this is Agnes, by the way, because she's holding a lamb, Saint Agnes's symbol.

In the upper left corner you can also see something hanging from the girdle of Saint Barbara (whom we recognize because of the pattern of towers on her gown), though since whatever it is is dark beads against a dark gown, it's hard to see exactly what's happening. It does look rather like a linear rosary, but could be just a decorative string of beads.


Sometimes it almost seems as though portrait artists have schemed through the centuries to confound modern viewers, especially those of us who are interested in the details of clothing and accessories. Historical costumers joke that the book they really want is titled Hey, Lady -- Turn Around! and shows the backs of the people being portrayed, so we can see how their clothes are really put together!

Unfortunately, this holds for portraits with rosaries, too. At least half the portraits that show women with center-front rosaries have the woman's hands in front, right where we'd expect the rosary to be attached, so we can't see the details. In some cases, like these below, it's hard to even tell whether the rosaries are attached or whether they are just being held.

Here is a 16th-century Dutch painting -- unknown artist, anonymous sitters, currently in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Nice beads, though!

MFA rosary

And this is a portrait of Catherine Pole from 1546. I think her rosary is attached to her girdle, though it's really hard to tell.

Catherine Pole 1546

Finally, just for a change, here's a woman who's wearing her beads on the back of her belt. Her rather undignified posture is because she is -- as evidence of her devotion -- about to crawl underneath the shrine of Saint Agilolph, in search of healing. This detail is from a panel from the altarpiece of Saint Agilolph (painted in Antwerp, 1521), formerly in the church of Sankt Maria ad Gradus and now in the Metropolitan Chapter of the Hohen Domkirche, Cologne.


posts in this series:

If you've got it, flaunt it
Rosaries on belts
Tying one on
Rubg ariybd tge cikkar
Loops, drapes and dangles
Just hanging around
What did Margaret mean?


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Rosaries on belts:

Wearing rosaries, part 2

I began before New Year's to write about how to wear a rosary or paternoster with medieval clothing. I was actually hoping to get several articles written before the Twelfth Night festivities hit, but "Life" wound up interfering and I'm only now getting back to it.

With modern clothes, of course, a rosary is normally carried in a pocket or purse. But especially if you belong to a historical re-enactment group, you will probably want some guidance on how to wear your medieval rosary with your medieval clothes. If you have a gorgeous medieval rosary, you will probably want to flaunt it!

Probably the most common place to see a rosary in a medieval image is attached to someone's belt. Often we can't see enough detail to determine exactly how it's attached. But when we can, sometimes the rosary is clearly just tucked into the belt or looped over it in one way or another.

The detail below, from the tomb brass of Master Geoffrey Kidwelly (d. 1483, Little Wittenham, Berkshire) shows the most typical way we see men's paternosters attached: he has a "tenner" simply tucked into his belt, carried over one hip.

Overbelt-1 Manbrass

While Master Kidwelly has a straight string of beads, the looped type of paternoster can be tucked into the belt pretty much in the same way:


The wealthy lady donor in the painting below, by an unknown artist from about 1475 in Liège, also appears to have her own (white) rosary tucked into her belt, although she's holding part of a different (red) rosary in her hands. (You can't see the full context in this detail: the red rosary is being held out to her by the Infant Jesus, who is sitting in Mary's lap.)


It's conceivable that a looped rosary could be worn on the belt if the belt was actually passed through the loop, as in the diagram below. But a recent question from a correspondent on a slightly different subject made me think this through a bit. It now seems to me more likely that a rosary would be worn in such a way that you could easily take it off and pray with it. That would make it less likely that you'd wear it in such a way that you'd have to unbuckle your belt in order to take the rosary off. I don't know whether respectable ladies and gentlemen ever unbuckled their belts in public -- would that seem too much like "undressing"?


However, this is logic, not evidence :) And logic, and what seems like common sense to us, has proven to be a very bad guide to what actually went on in history. So take this suggestion for what it's worth. I'd be happy to see concrete evidence either way.

A rosary can also be more or less knotted onto the belt for greater security, by putting part of it over the belt and passing the rest of the beads through the resulting loop:


It's hard to see -- and I'd still like a better view of the details, though this is one of my mystery paintings and I don't know where to look for the original -- but it seems to me that this straight rosary might be attached to the wearer's belt in this way. In this case, I'm imagining the beads have a plain loop of string at one end, and that's what's knotted to the belt, up there in the dark corner. But I can't be sure.


Finally, below is probably the most peculiar way I've seen of slinging a rosary casually onto one's belt. It looks to me as though this gentleman has twined it around the handle of his dagger. That is guaranteed to keep him peaceable, since he can't draw the dagger without the risk of sending his beads flying! This is another image from REALonline, a detail of the Judgement of Daniel painted around 1505 by the Master of Mariapfarr in Salzburg, and now in Graz at the Landesmuseum Joanneum.


posts in this series:

If you've got it, flaunt it
Rosaries on belts
Tying one on
Rubg ariybd tge cikkar
Loops, drapes and dangles
Just hanging around
What did Margaret mean?